3. Reds C Tyler Stephenson could be the difference between success & failure in 2024
The Cincinnati Reds have quality depth up and down their lineup. Currently, the Reds have about dozen capable infielders. If Christian Encarnacion-Strand is suffering through a rough-patch, Spencer Steer and Jeimer Candelario can play first base. If Elly De La Cruz struggles, Matt McLain and Noelvi Marte have experience playing shortstop.
Even the Reds pitching depth has become a strength. Fans are arguing, and with good reason, about which five pitchers will begin the season as part of Cincinnati's starting rotation. Connor Phillips, Andrew Abbott, and Brandon Williamson, all of whom had varying success in 2023, will be locked in a battle this spring to remain on the active roster.
But the same cannot be said for the Reds' depth behind the plate. It's Tyler Stephenson, Luke Maile, and a whole lot of question marks. Yes, Austin Wynns plays above-average defense, but the veteran couldn't hit water if he fell out of boat and is unlikely to be called upon unless Stephenson or Maile suffer an injury.
Curt Casali isn't there anymore, so Stephenson will donning the tools of ignorance on a regular basis in 2024. After experimenting with first base, it was clear about three weeks into the season that it wasn't going to work. Stephenson then rotated between acting as the team's catcher and designated hitter until Casali hit the IL midway through the 2023 season.
Stephenson was out of sync; both behind the plate and in the batters' box. The former first-round pick, who had his 2022 season cut short due to injury, was unable to tap into his power. Stephenson's OPS fell from .854 to .695.
But worse than his hitting was Stephenson's defense. Perhaps an absence from regular playing time behind the dish effected his performance. Stephenson's framing has never been above-average, but that area of his game was downright putrid in 2023. According to Baseball Savant, Stephenson ranked incredibly low in blocking, framing, and pop time.
With so many talented hitters on next year's team, Tyler Stephenson doesn't have to have the best bat on the club, but being more than the Reds' No. 9 hitter is almost a must. But more than his offensive performance in 2024, the Cincinnati Reds need Stephenson to become at least an average defender behind the plate.